What Districts Will Need to Implement New Meal Patterns: Lessons from the Wild West

I don’t have crystal ball, so I can’t tell you any details of the new and improved USDA Nutrition Standards for School Meals. We’ll all learn tomorrow morning when the final regulations are released with the star power of the First Lady and Rachel Ray at Parklawn Elementary School in Virginia.

IMHO the true heroes of the morning event will be Penny McConnell, MS, RD, and the staff of Fairfax Country Public School Nutrition Services who will prepare the lunch for hungry kids. Just like they do every day!

I can tell you what it will take to implement the new meal patterns – whatever they may be – in any district, from LA Unified with hundreds of thousands of students to Gallatin Gateway, Montana, with less than 200. Districts will need:

  • A team of school wellness champions to support changes.
  • An in-depth understanding of the business of school foodservice.
  • A commitment to open and continuous innovation.

I saw all three of these strategies hard at work in Gillette, Wyoming, last week. Campbell County is part of the mining/oil/gas “boom” in eastern Wyoming, where the school district serves 8,400 students (free-reduced about 35%) in an area of about 5,000 square miles.

Celebrating Success in Campbell County School District (CCSD)

In terms of healthy schools for healthy students, CCSD already implements best practices throughout the school day – from breakfast in the classroom to 30 minutes of active recess before lunch. While they are well positioned to implement new meal patterns, it will still be a challenge to work within budget, procure needed food products, and – most importantly – get kids to actually consume what is served!

Campbell County CHAMPIONS for Healthy Kids

From left to right, four of the folks who support the district’s long term commitment to wellness – Rachel Wilde (TriFit Coordinator), Mike Miller (champion for wellness in Wyoming for several decades), Judy Barbe (WY Action for Healthy Kids Western Dairy Association), and Bryan Young, Director of Nutrition Services.

The BUSINESS of School Foodservice

While Bryan may look young enough to enjoy a student-priced lunch, he brings the business savvy and experience that school nutrition programs will need to implement the new regulations. He came to the job less than a year ago from managing a very popular local restaurant. He’ll need to use every trick in the book to serve even more fruits and veggies with the new pattern, especially considering that he, like many directors, have only about a dollar to spend on food after paying for labor costs. Want more fresh produce, smoothies, and yogurt parfaits? That means higher labor costs too!

On-going INNOVATION and Creativity

Honestly, school nutrition directors have to be nutrition magicians to put these delicious and healthful items on a tray using the budgets they have. And, getting on the food is just the first step – then you have to get the food into the students!!

Here is the thing: It’s only nutrition when kids eat it. If food goes into a trashcan, it’s garbage not nutrition. Getting kids to enjoy the healthful meals served in school cafeterias is another magic trick – one that takes marketing creativity, product innovation (like whole wheat buns that kids like!), and presentation, presentation, presentation (love the kiwi on the yogurt parfaits).

KUDOS to Campbell County, Wyoming … and THANKS for a delicious lunch!

5 thoughts on “What Districts Will Need to Implement New Meal Patterns: Lessons from the Wild West

  1. Great post, Dayle. I agree with your analysis of the 3 ingredients needed in order to implement the new menu plans– champions, business savvy, and innovation.

    I’d like to add a 4th, cooperation…


  2. Dayle – I am excited to see your blog so that more SN professionals, parents and other stakeholders will have access to the great news about school meals in so many districts across the country! Thanks for your commitment to getting the word out!!

  3. i opened this after the media conference mid-day today. HALLELUAH! Eight years ago, this was only a dream. There is a raging forest fire over the parent-factor right now. I agree that parents need as much childhood education and the children. Sadly, it will take 2 or more generations to see the results. Huge kudos to this school and all the other successful programs in other schools. Just goes to show WHO really has the best interest of the child in mind.
    Good luck, Chef D’Aun

  4. What a great picture of a school district that is actively carrying out school wellness and prime to implement the new standards. Kudos to the leadership and hard work of CCSD. Glad to know that schools in Wyoming join many Montana schools that are serving tasty kid popular meals and are meeting the new standards through hard work, commitment and creativity.

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